20, Nov 2018 | Sushmita
In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister Adityanath has reportedly “stepped up efforts to expand his influence in the most backward communities” living in the forest protected regions of the Eastern UP. This, the CM plans to do by granting revenue status to villages which will entitle them to land rights and access to basic facilities such as ration card, electricity, water, toilets, health care, education etc.
The Yogi government recognised 23 Tangia forest villages of Gorakhpur and Maharajganj and four Tangia villages in Gonda as revenue villages. As per a press release by the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP), the titles were granted to the residents of these villages and the process of conversion of the villages is underway. The tag of revenue villages would enable them access to drinking water, electricity and above all ownership of land.
Forests planted, eventually to be cut down!
The Tangia agricultural technique picked up in India in 1920s when the British felt the need for raw materials for industries, businesses and factories in the form of commercial wood that could be used for trade and business. Worried over the fast depleting forests in India, they brought labourers who would dedicate their lives to the growth and maintenance of these forests, but without any land rights. This is seen to be mentioned in the documents pertaining to first Tangia conference held in Nainital. Most of the labourers who were brought to work on these forests were either landless or bonded laborers and presumably from lower castes. In lieu of the wages for planting trees they were allotted an acre of land so that they could take care of their families through the income generated on the lands.
Sal, Sheesham, Sagon, Eucalyptus, and other such commercial plantations were common. Tangia technique was not only meant for the plantation of specific trees that can be used for commercial purposes but also so that other smaller commercial species could be planted and mixed forests could be readied, the British called this silviculture technique. Moreover, trees were also meant to serve as the fodder for cattle, so that heavy prices can be charged on the fodder. This was especially done keeping in mind the communities which are dependent on cattle for their survival. Though this technique was called ‘scientific forestry’, there was hardly anything scientific about it. It merely became a method in pursuit of commercial woods so that businesses could flourish.
To summarise, these forests were planted so that they could eventually be cut. A fate also imposed on the people who were cultivating these forests, namely the Van Tangiya community.
Doomed from the beginning: Tangias in UP
In Uttar Pradesh, this technique was implemented in Gorakhpur, Mahrajganj, Gonda, Bahraich, Peelibhit, Saharanpur and other districts. Apart from Tangia, several other names were used to inhabit such forest villages in Haridwar, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Champawat, Khatima, Ramnagar and Nainital. All these come under the Uttarakhand state after it got separated from UP.
By the 60s, there was considerable pressure on forests with the tasks related to commercial activities handed over to the local contractors. These local contractors, in turn, colluded with officials from the forest departments and expedited the processes related to the export and smuggling of commercial wood for buildings, export of other rare herbs and animals. The Tangia workers faced an unprecedented crisis at this juncture. The thefts within and of the forests too started during this period and it was shown/ highlighted that the Tangia community was practically useless now.
By the 1980s, the forest departments completely stopped the basic facilities that it was providing, albeit for the namesake. Though, during the British period it was agreed upon that the responsibility to run primary health and education centres was that of forest departments, the commercialization during the period from 1960s-1980s ensured that van Tangias became irrelevant for forest departments.
Tangias were not even mentioned in government records! The community is not factored in, in population surveys. At some places, Tangia villages have been attached to nearby revenue villages but the government schemes available to revenue villages are not accessible to the Tangia villages. Hence, they are mostly excluded from the Panchayat activities of the revenue villages. Though they have voting rights, but that is purely for political leverage.
Conversion of Tangia villages to Revenue villages: Outcome of a long struggle
Even after independence, there are thousands of such Van Tangia villages which are deprived of development. Not just that, they are also disconnected from the electoral processes.
On March 27, 2018, a delegation of forest people from 15 districts of UP had met the Forest Minister Dara Singh Chauhan, UP under the leadership of Saharanpur MLA Sanjay Garg. Sanjay Garg is also the working president of the Union. He has raised issues of Tongia villages, nomadic tribes, Van Gujjars’ issues, issues of Adivasis in the area and issues pertaining to other forest dwellers. In 2010, three villages of district Lakhimpur Khiri that fall in Dudhwa National Park zone area namely Soorma, Golbojhi and Devipur, were granted revenue status by the then BSP government. This has been possible because of the concerted efforts of the Union which has been working in the area for several decades now.
The struggle for getting revenue status for Tangia villages has been a long struggle. It was initially launched by local organisations, Ghad Shetra Majdoor Morcha, Vikalp Social Organization and National Forum of Forest People and Forest workers (now AIUFWP).
A strong recommendation regarding the conversion of 7000 or so Tangia villages to Revenue villages was made to the Joint Parliamentary Committee while the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was being constituted. Tangia villages across the country were not recognised as Revenue villages and were even missing from the map of the country.
It remains to be seen whether such announcements by the UP state government will actually bring a change in the lives of these forest dwelling unique communities. But constant watch by the union and people in the area along with human rights groups consistently raising issues of the community, may bring in accountability measures in the implementation of the revenue status to these villages.
Acknowledgment: This piece was made possible due to the insights provided by AIUFWP secretary Roma in this letter.